06 November 2017

Double Royal Tragedy: The Death of Charlotte

By Sir Thomas Lawrence
via Wikimedia Commons
Princess Charlotte was exhausted. For two days, she had labored to deliver her child and now here he was at last. Dead. She could barely think, her mind blinded by pain and by hunger. "It is God's will," she murmured.

Her beloved husband, Prince Leopold, slowly released her hand. Convinced at last to leave Charlotte's side and try to sleep after their 48-hour ordeal. It was over, he must have told himself. His own thoughts were numb to his loss, but they were young and healthy. He took a draught of an opiate and drifted into slumber. Tomorrow would be different.

In Charlotte's room, the babe was taken away and the princess was finally allowed to eat a little something. Completely overwhelmed, she too drifted to sleep while the caregivers and the officials bemoaned the loss of the child. Everyone second guessing everyone else. If only.

Why didn't they use forceps when the child wouldn't come? Too risky for a royal birth. Mortality rates were high.

Why hadn't Prince Leopold's own physician, Christian Stockmar, intervened? As a foreigner, he would have been blamed for anything that went wrong.

The minutes ticked slowly into the early hours of November 6. Suddenly, a scream from Charlotte's room. They rushed in to find her vomiting. Clutching her stomach, she shrieked in pain. Stockmar ran through the house to wake Leopold, but his drug-induced sleep was too deep. Stockmar flew back to the princess, who clung to his hand. She was hemorrhaging. Nothing her physicians tried could stop it. Her skin was already cold.

Stockmar pulled himself away, desperate to bring Leopold to her side. As the drowsy prince entered the chamber, the screaming had subsided. The troubled breathing had ceased. Charlotte was no more.

Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales had been the only legitimate grandchild of King George III. She and her infant were the hope of the nation. Without her, the monarchy had no future. Her death was mourned throughout the country. Shops sold out of black cloth. Poets wrote tributes. Her mother's attorney, Henry Brougham declared that it was as if "every household throughout Great Britain had lost a favorite child."

With her death and the death of her infant son, Britain was left with only middle-aged royals as heirs to George III. The youngest of these was Charlotte's unmarried Aunt Sophia who had turned 40 just three days earlier. There was little chance then of new royal offspring from the aunties due to their ages. So, Charlotte's disreputable uncles married women half their age and began popping out royal heirs in their forties and fifties. The new little cousin who ultimately won the royal sweepstakes was a baby girl named Alexandrina Victoria, better known to us as Queen Victoria.

Charlotte, who had been the Princess Diana of her time up until that fateful date 200 years ago today, faded from historical recollection. Today, she serves primarily as a footnote in biographies of Victoria, who may not have been born had Charlotte survived, and of Leopold, who went on to become King of Belgium, a title he would not have been offered had he still been Charlotte's consort.

The much-anticipated reign of Queen Charlotte died in agony, as a young girl gave her very life to perpetuating her family and serving her country. It was a fate shared by so many women in history.

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